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Boi Boi Is Dead

Angela Wynter and Andrew French in Boi Boi Is Dead. Photo: Richard Davenport Angela Wynter and Andrew French in Boi Boi Is Dead. Photo: Richard Davenport
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Developed after a year-long Channel 4 writer’s residency at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Zodwa Nyoni’s first full-length play opens the new season here with a compelling story of cultural collision that also deals with the intergenerational interplay between parental ties and youthful aspiration.

It is a freshly minted statement from this Leeds-based writer, who skilfully interconnects universal themes with her Zimbabwean heritage, framed through vibrant characters and a plot centred on the funeral of a successful Afro-jazz trumpeter: Boi Boi may have joined a jam session in the sky, but his legacy is a discordant family where too much bad blood is buried, leaving the female characters to dig up past secrets while trying to cope without the man who dominated their lives.

Angela Wynter is both fearless and fragile as the bereaved lover ending up with an identity crisis. Lynette Clarke is superbly gross as the ex-wife Stella who appears to be a dysfunctional good-time girl, but has the wisest line in the play when she advises teenage Una (Debbie Korley) to head for England and “meet the Simon Cowells of the world, because the savannas won’t get you anywhere”.

Passions, hopes and maternal disappointments are stripped bare in Lucian Msamati’s powerfully acted production, underscored by Michael Henry’s jazzy mood music. A stylised, sun-blessed set design gives the unfolding domestic tragedy an exotic Zimbabwean backdrop and space to breath on the Courtyard stage. But the play’s strength is its cross-cultural universality – and the revelation that if Zimbabwe’s got talent, so has Leeds.

Dates: February 14-March 7, PN February 18 (then Palace Theatre, Watford, March 18-28)

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New playwright Zodwa Nyoni bridges cross-cultural divisions in this lively domestic drama